What Does the Loss of Philippe Coutinho Mean for Liverpool?
Although many thought the deal would happen in the summer, Philippe Coutinho to Barcelona is now official.
The transfer is among the richest deals in the history of football, with the total reported to be around £142 million. He will not be eligible to play for Barcelona in the Champions League, but he will be available help the Catalans maintain their stunning La Liga form as well as serve as a long-term playmaker for Barca, with some thinking the Brazilian is a successor to the aging Andres Iniesta.
As for Liverpool, the critical question is what becomes of the Reds with potentially their best player heading out the door in the middle of the season, a campaign in which it looks like the battle for the top four will be at cutthroat as ever.
Career at Liverpool
Coutinho has played 201 games at Liverpool, scoring 54 goals in that time. He has 35 assists, but he has yet to win any trophies. Those numbers may not seem to warrant a move that made him the second-most expensive player ever after the Neymar transfer to PSG, but Coutinho has gotten better every season.
Coutinho had similar numbers in his first two full seasons with Liverpool, tallying five goals in both 2013-14 and 2014-15. Last year was his breakout season as the Brazilian scored 13 goals and added 7 assists to help Liverpool get back to the Champions League.
He scored or assisted a goal once every two games while at Liverpool. He is third in Liverpool history in assists, but sixth in assists in the Premier League since his debut in February 2013. Coutinho does claim the most goals from outside the box in the Premier League in that time frame.
Filling the Void
A simple search on Twitter will show that many feel Coutinho is the type of player who can change the game with the ball at his feet. That is part of the reason that Liverpool have been one of the more prolific teams in the Premier League the last two seasons. Currently, Liverpool sit on 50 goals scored this campaign, second to Manchester City.
The scoring is up due in part to the wonderful season that Mohamed Salah is putting together. Salah's emergence had moved Coutinho off of the front three and into the midfield. Salah is rated right behind Coutinho, per WhoScored's rating system, but Salah has scored 17 EPL goals in 21 appearances (19 starts). Salah has become something of a folk hero with the awards continually rolling in. His play alone softens the blow of losing Coutinho.
🎥 WATCH | How good has Mohamed Salah been at Liverpool so far? #LFC
🏆 Multiple Awards
⚽️ 22 Goals
🇪🇬 Mo Salah, The Egyptian King. 👑
— LFC Transfer Room (@LFCTransferRoom) January 6, 2018
The return of Adam Lallana will help, as well. The England international's performance against Burnley, including a solid defensive effort, was encouraging and shows he is ready to take on a larger role after missing most of the first half of the campaign with an injury. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who came to Liverpool last summer, started the match against Burnley and also looks set to take on a bigger role. Oxe and Lallana will not necessarily need to score goals, but they will be tasked with finding ways to create opportunities for their teammates.
Should Liverpool Spend in January?
Obviously, Liverpool have plenty of money in the coffer now if they would like to go out and find a midfield replacement. However, they have Naby Keita on the way in the summer, and the January window is usually less active than the summer.
Thomas Lemar, Christian Pulisic, Julian Brandt, and Riyad Mahrez are names that have been rumored as potential targets for Liverpool. Jurgen Klopp and Liverpool would have to convince another club to let go of a top player in the middle of the season, which isn't easy to do. That is especially true right now for the Reds, since other teams know Liverpool have plenty of coin to spend.
Liverpool already addressed a bigger need with the signing of Virgil van Dijk, a center-half who should help solidify their defense, but the Reds would need to replace Coutinho with someone that can find a pass. Rumors will move to Alexis Sanchez, who has voiced his desire to leave Arsenal and is in the last few months of his contract, making him a potential steal.
However, the prevailing thought is that Klopp is fairly comfortable with the team he has available currently, and that makes sense. Since they held off Barca last summer, Liverpool clearly had ample time to consider the ramifications of this move, and there's a plan in place for the Reds moving forward.
Forward Dominic Solanke has received praise from Klopp and can help spell Roberto Firmino at the front of attack. Ben Woodburn's loan move to Sunderland has also been halted following the Coutinho deal. Both Solanke and Woodburn could see more playing time when league play resumes next weekend.
Its almost as if theres numbers to back up the fact the Coutinho sale isn’t all that bad. pic.twitter.com/CPiLN1nFBr
— GosportGamer (@GosportGamer) January 6, 2018
Coutinho was ready to move, so Liverpool will need to adjust. The Reds' goal will be to finish in the top four in the Premier League as five teams -- Spurs, Chelsea, Manchester United, Arsenal and Liverpool -- scrap for the three Champions League spots behind Manchester City. And speaking of the Champions League, Liverpool have a very winnable Round-of-16 tie coming up with Porto, and with the way the Reds have played this year at Anfield, knockout football could suit them well.
Despite losing possibly their best player, Liverpool should feel they can reach their goals this season, and fans should look forward to a summer spending spree. Liverpool's attack should still be pretty potent, so if the Reds can reinvest the money wisely -- which they may have already started doing with the van Dijk move -- this transfer can end up being a good thing for both Liverpool and Coutinho.
The player gets his dream move, and the club turns a massive profit after signing Coutinho for £8.5 million from Inter Milan back in 2013, giving Klopp and company a chance to reshape the roster into a more balance squad.